My journey to Muhoroni...

Friday, January 22, 2010

School is school almost for free

Class, are you happy? Yes! Maria is going to teach you. Are you happy? Yes! She told me she wants to be your friend. Are you happy? Yes! She will take you to Slovakia. Are you happy? Yes!
Well, a happy class of happy children indeed...

The children at the elementary school in Muhoroni are not as rude as the Slovak ones but they can be. They imitate my voice, my accent, repeat sentences after me or shout at me. I can see there are some rascals too.
Almost as if in Slovak nationalist´s dream: on Friday morning at eight o´clock we start by hanging up the flag and singing the anthem. Kenyan anthem is beautiful. In the context of the country that is fragmentated into tribes it does not give the impression of nationalism as much as of unity.

Kenya has had free education for 7 years now. Recently Britain has stopped its support because 100 million shillings disappeared just like that.

„Your parents are untidy. Tell your parents that if you don´t come to school in your uniforms on Monday, you can turn around and walk back home.“
„Your parents just don´t care!“
„Where are your socks?“
„This is not the colour of our uniform!“
„If you come in these shoes again you will have to take them off at the gate and walk barefoot for the rest of the day.“

There are several elementary schools in Muhoroni. This one has 840 children. There are 30 to 60 children in each class. Three or four share one desk. The school has 18 teachers. 19 with me.

35-minute lesson. 40 children. 5 classbooks. That
is some challenge.

Some children walk to school for about an hour. Sometime after six o´clock in the evening you can see them walking back home to Koguta or Menara Village.

They don´t give lunch at school. The children have an hour and 20 minutes to get home. A neighbour´s girl is going to cook lunch together with her sister. Another one goes to the neighbour´s because Menara is too far away.
A 4-year-old girl is walking down the street. Her brother who is about 2 years older than her walks 10 meters ahead of her. I walked with her because we had the same way. Then I notified the boy that he had a sister there. A boy that is not even of school age needs to take responsibility. There is a nice road to school, right next to our hospital. It is a shortcut through the field. No one shouts at me and I can be alone for a while.
„Did you come through the shortcut to school? We try to teach the children that they should walk through the gate.“
I understand. An inner sigh. No more shortcuts.

They call me „sister“. They think I am a nun. I don´t mind. It works as a self-defence course.
In the afternoon the children were practising some dancing. They will dance and play drama about Mao Forest. It is a reservation where people started to live, they cut out the trees and now after years they started to move them out and they are planting trees. It is a big political case.
There is a poster on the wall saying „no sexual harrasment at school“. Unfortunately, it should hang in every classroom. A teacher went to a training about sexual abuse of children at schools. 15-year old girls get pregnant because they carry their teacher´s books home. I haven´t seen a student that would dare disobey the teacher. He has great authority. In every area, it seems.

I teach two lessons of religion a week. Eastern and western 6th grade. That is instead of 6A and 6B.
Apart from that I teach a 15-year-old girl to read. She is repeating the 3rd grade. And I also teach an 8-year-old boy to read from the very beginning. Those are simple yet miraculous things. To learn how to riddle the bugs we put in words and books.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Luos don´t kill. Blackberries grow on trees

Mtwala is classics. A hill that is covered with various types of huts, gardens divided by green fences. Many trees.
A shortcut leads through the river. As it have been raining a lot in the past days we decided for a longer route. We typically look for families using the name of the father or the information about how far they are from the source of water – the river.

We inspect the first house that we come across.  A cabin made of clay with a tin roof. The earthen floor is decorated in an interesting way – as if you rake the sand on a playground. There are different  pictures hanging on the walls and an old man is just closing his Bible.
People know each other in Mtwala. This is not Shauri yako. The way of life is more traditional here.  
A youngster from the first house became our guide. He finished the primary school, sent out letters for high schools, got his results from the national final exam and is waiting to see if he gets a response. He managed to earn 340 out of 400 points. A very good result. He has a chance to enter the best high schools in Kenya. He dreams about a school in Nairobi. Slumdog millionaire?
We are walking up, passing the green fences. After my last experience in Shauri yako Solo draws my attention to the improvements. Muddy pathways were very reasonably covered with leaves. When you know that, you can read the country. Without words. The house that is directed at the gate is the house of the father. The house to the right hand is the house of his first son. I also saw a one-year-old Lina sitting under the tree – alone. Her mother was far away in the field. 11-year-old Otieno is the boss now making tea for his younger siblings. There were cows inside the fencing. They will go grazinh when the frogs leave. Those can be deadly for a cow.
In two years Otieno will probably have to leave the house. He can´t sleep in one room with his mother. And there is usually only one room in each house.

They can afford building a little house of clay for him. That does not have to be possible in the city. Slums around Nairobi don´t have the space capacity for such traditions. Boys can easily end up on the street.
Luo names for boys usually start with O (Otieno, Onyango, Omondi, Ouma), girls´ names with A (Atieno, Anyango, Amondi, Akinyi). They also decide for the names according to the time of the delivery.
Atieno means night. I adopted this Luo name. 
The next visit leads to Atieno. His mother Marion lives with her mother, sister and daughter. So the positioning of the houses is different. There is a big tree in front of the house and it bears fruit that tastes similar to our blackberries.
While I am watching the mother preparing milk for her child in the kitchen, the boys outside discuss the differences in their languages. Not every Luo is the same. „Yen“ in common Luo means a tree, and „yat“ means medicine. In the other Luo it´s quite the contrary – „yen“ is medicine and „yat“ is a tree. I remarked that „yen“ is „strom“ in Slovak, just to keep the conversation. Or „yat“?
The last family was not Luo but Maragoli. It is a small tribe that lives at the Maragoli hill in the west of Kenya. They were talking in Swahili. While shaking hands I noticed that they were supporting their right hand with the left one. We were welcomed by the grandfather. Our mother introduced herself as a „co-wife“. Solo spoke most of the time and I let him. I understood intuitively that the man needs to speak to the man and the woman is silent. Then I joined the mother walking to the house. She showed me all of her things, the dishes. Older siblings were following us with curiousity. Little Chrispus looked as if he was afraid that I might kidnap him.
The family earns money by making wicker baskets that are placed upside down to make shelter for little chicks.

Supporting your right hand with the left one while greeting someone is a sign of respect to the other person – not a sign of exhaustion or problems with the hand as I thought first. It is a Luo tradition that this family adopted.
Luos do not kill, they burn. I found it out on the way home. They are afraid to shed the blood because the believe that their whole family could be cursed because of that. Instead they burn the things that they consider important for their enemies – their matatu, field, house, garden.
During tribal fights in 2007 when Luos and Kukuyu were fighting each other Luos were burning whatever came to their hands. But they have friends among the tribe of Kalenjin that get out of control and do not mind killing people. Maybe Luos do not kill in this area but I don´t know about the area around Eldoret...

On the way we encountered three Muhoroni policemen with automatic guns. When I greeted one of them with Luo greeting, he despised me. They were standing by the main road stopping the cars. The policemen are modern beggars. They stand by the road and the drivers throw the money at their feet. A matatu drove by. A head stuck out, then a hand. The car slowed down and the head looked at the policemen. The car was gone. In a while the policeman picked something from the ground. This is „bribery live“. If the policemen were not fed by the appropriate sum their further journey might not be very smooth. They would find a problem even in a flawless matatu. (Not mentioning the fact that there is no flawless matatu...)

The journey back lasted four hours on foot and I was rewarded by a burnt neck.

Yesterday I prepared Slovak potato griddlecakes for my Irish visitors. They were happy to find out that they would have Irish traditional food for dinner. It seems that we have more in common with the Irish than we think.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back to Muhoroni

In Muhoroni I was welcomed by the warm supper from Sister Vincent. And my empty house. My fear of spider invasion during my two-week absence did not prove legitimate. They have probably understood what they should expect there. It took me a while till I realized that there was no one else coming out of the next door to greet me.

I was surprised to see that the clothes pegs were still hanging on the string and other things that I left outside were also untouched. (In Nairobi whatever I left outside was taken – from a plastic bag to a mop.)
And so I settled in again. Today I was painting the names of the hospital wards.  Yesterday I was visiting houses in Shauri Yako. Literally it means „your problem“. Supposedly because of the high criminality that made this quarter notorious in the past. I don´t know if it was just me but it seemed that these people don´t know their neighbours very much. Maybe everyone deals with their problems, not „yours“. We went from house to house asking about my families but no one knew them. Of course, „your problem“ is a big one so we did not solve it. My guide has a good and rare character trait – he does not give up. So we were walking around Shauri Yako for two and a half hours. At last, thanks to all of the advice, we managed to get to another quarter where the neighbours knew our mother under her nickname, not her real name. It turned out that she had left a month ago because she had had an argument with her husband. That might explain why we haven´t seen the boy for so long.
Apart from stepping in an unidentified piece of shit („your problem“) in Shauri Yako it was a strong experience. Some children were running away from me, others started crying heart-rendingly and they didn´t stop until I was behind the corner. I noticed that the children who came to me out of curiosity did not ask for anything. I think that the children that I meet at the main road must have been taught to beg for sweets by some white person who started giving them things. They already have a list of things that they want from me and that I should bring them.
The children in Shauri Yako either didn´t have time to start begging or it didn´t come to their minds. A group of children wished me safe journey home – something like „chop ma ber“ and that really got me. Although we didn´t find the other two moms I managed to find my way in the area and I also realized that I would have to improve the locating system for our families.
The last visit in the family – a hut made of clay, a fireplace, water from the stream convinced me that the food itself is not the solution of malnutrition. The families could use vacuum flasks where they could store the drinking water prepared for the milk powder or milk squash and feed the child more often.
I am considering the idea of creating a space where the mums could play with their children. I realize that many of them barely communicate with their children while visiting our centre. Some of the children are afraid of me, some are afraid of being measured. I try to speak with them but I am not good at speaking Luo and the mothers are silent. The other day I asked one of the fathers to tell his 2-year-old son to open his mouth and the father started to open the boy´s mouth by force without saying a word. I tried in vain to convince him to speak to the boy in his language.
Next week I am going to see what the school looks like. I should teach a few religion lessons, maybe social studies. I have already seen the teachers sitting in one room while the kids were in their classrooms and so I asked if it was the break time. It wasn´t. Well, that happens. I am curious to see what awaits for me there. Today I made a child cry because I handed him over to his mum. He wanted to stay with me. Well, at least one time the child cry for a different reason than the usual one.

The first homeless Christmas

It was different. Nothing around me reminded me that the Christmas was coming close. No Christmas decorations in the slums, no Christmas carols, no Christmas markets.  And no snow. Every day people criticise the consumerism of the Christmas time, the decorated Tesco, tiring carols in the middle of October. Suddenly I found myself sitting in my room desiring a bit of the decorated Tesco, Christmas balls, the smell of ginger bread. I don´t know if it is good or bad but my culture is part of me – together with all of the traditions and customs. And so I missed our culture. I didn´t miss the pre-Christmas stress and long queues in front of the shops. That is what I enjoyed a lot about the Christmas in Kenya.
They do not celebrate Christmas Eve in Kenya. Finally I spent it with a plate of French fries and a bottle of Coca-Cola. It cost me 50 cents. I know it sounds disgusting but it made me happy because it was a pleasant change. I sang some carols in the room just for myself, I listened to a part of Christmas sermon from 2008 and opened my 4 Christmas presents. I had a strange feeling opening my gifts alone during Christmas when we are supposed to share gifts with other people...
On the next day all of the children got new clothes so I dressed up in my last clean clothes and pretended that it was new. They have a nice tradition to wear new clothes 25th December. It is like a new life. New beginning. New clothes. I don´t know if this was the symbolics but I decided to take it that way.
We ate delicious food – including goat meat chewing gum (I had to spit the meat out secretly behind the toilets because I couldn´t swallow it) but the taste was persistent... didn´t want to disappear. Two girls were celebrating their birthdays during Christmas so their were watered properly as it is usual.
On 26th December I prepared the promised popcorn. Four kilos of corn was not enough for 140 children. If course I burnt myself using the big pot but fortunately, only once. That was my farewell party with Children´s Garden and Nairobi too because on Sunday I set off on my journey back to Muhoroni. The journey was incredibly long. Two years ago they built an asphalt road from Nairobi to Kisumu. Unfortunately, only one, and a very narrow one. One accident – and the road is useless. And so we were stuck in a . The time was passing by and I came to Kisumu some time before 6pm. I found a matatu (public transportation vehicle, 14-seat Nissan microbus) to Muhoroni. I was waiting for almost half an hour till it got full. „Full“ doesn´t mean that all of the seats were occupied but that there was no place to move. I couldn´t turn myself and it was clear that there was more than 14 people in this matatu. It made strange sounds and it was interesting especially when we were starting. From time to time they poured in some strange liquid. Don´t ask me why. It was getting dark and I realized I would not get home in the light. We took a route I didn´t know. At last the matatu spit me out at the crossroads leading to the hospital at half past seven. So I stepped into the dark. I jumped over a well-known puddle in front of the hospital and thanked God that nothing had happened to me. That was my first (and hopefully the last) „scary walk“ in Africa.